Asylum seekers mount protest at Cork direct provision centre

Barry Roche – Irish Times – Tuesday 16th September 2014

Up to 300 residents of a direct provision centre for asylum seekers in Cork yesterday mounted a protest at the system of direct provision. Residents at the Kinsale Road Reception and Accommodation Centre on the outskirts of Cork city began the protest at 5am yesterday and blocked staff from gaining entry to the premises. “Some of the people here have been in the Kinsale Road Centre for eight and nine years and they are calling for the ending of the direct provision system once and for all,” said Joe Moore of Anti-Deportation Ireland, which is supporting the action. The protest comes just a day after Minister of State at the Department of Justice Aodhán Ó Ríordáin criticised the way that direct provision centres for asylum seekers are being operated.

Serious concerns

Theresa, an asylum seeker from Nigeria, revealed that she had been at the Kinsale Road centre for nine years and was still waiting a decision on her status and that of her two young children. She experienced frustration over the conditions at the centre, saying that they had serious concerns about food, but also about the effect on people’s mental wellbeing. “It affects both adults and children – imagine a child growing up and living his entire life in a direct provision centre – that’s not right or good for any child,” she said. “If I was a prisoner in jail at least I would have hope because I would know when I am leaving the system, but here I have no idea when my application will be processed.” “You hope something will happen very soon, but before you know it the days and the years are passing – you are holding on to hope because you never know when it will happen.” Christian, who comes from the Congo and has been at the centre for seven years, said that Irish people had no idea what the conditions were like for him and his fellow asylum seekers. “The Irish people don’t know what is happening to us here in centres like this – they should be made aware that we need to live outside and be able to work – I’m an electrician, I can work here.” Another man from South Africa said that he had been in limbo since he arrived in Ireland two years ago; he criticised the Irish authorities for failing to address people’s applications. “I have been waiting for over two years and when you compare this system to the apartheid system that we had in South Africa, there is a lot of racism in it,” he said.

Monitoring the situation

The Department of Justice said in a statement that the Reception and Integration Agency was monitoring the situation at the Kinsale Road centre, and was anxious that services, particularly food provision, would be restored to residents at the centre as soon as possible. Contacted yesterday evening by The Irish Times, Christian confirmed that the protest was continuing and the residents were determined to
continue the blockade through the night if necessary.

Right to work urged for asylum seekers

Carl O’Brien – Irish Times – Tuesday 16th September 2014

Asylum seekers who spend long periods of time in the controversial direct provision system should be extended the right to work, Minister of State Aodhán Ó Riordáin has said. His position clashes with that of Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, who has ruled out any such move. Both Ministers are due to host the first meeting of a Government working group this week, which is reviewing the controversial accommodation system for those people seeking refugee status. “I can’t stand over a system which belittles people, which forces people to live in intolerable conditions,” Mr Ó Riordáin told The Irish Times.

‘Parallel economy’

“Work after a certain period of time should be an option. If people spend long periods of time here and aren’t allowed to work, they either retreat into themselves or find a parallel economy . . . We should be using the skills of people living here, just like the vast majority of other EU member states do.” Ireland is one of two EU member states – the other is Lithuania – which bars asylum seekers from working under all circumstances. Many countries offer a limited or qualified right to work, either after a period of time or for work in certain sections of the economy. Mr Ó Riordáin, who is Minister of State at the Department of Justice with special responsibility for equality, said all issues should be up for review as part of the working group’s remit. Tensions in a number of direct provision centres have been rising in recent weeks, with three separate protests at which residents have refused food. Overall, more than 4,000 asylum seekers, including 1,600 children, live in 34 reception centres – mostly former hostels or hotels – under the the direct provision system. The average length of stay is almost four years, although some have been living in the system for anything up to 14 years. Mr Ó Riordáin said he hoped the working group’s deliberations would be completed within a three-month period, with firm proposals on how to improve the system ready in the new year.

Services for children

The group is likely to examine issues such as the length of time residents spend in direct provision centres; services for children; welfare supports for asylum seekers; and restrictions on higher education and work. Ms Fitzgerald, however, has agreed that some changes may be needed to the direct provision system, but has ruled out lifting work restrictions on the basis of unemployment levels here or providing an amnesty for those resident in the direct provision system for long periods of time. Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan publicly expressed her support for Mr Ó Riordáin and said changes were needed to improve educational opportunities for children living in direct provision. “This is an issue we need to address as quickly as possible it is not a good system particularly for children.”

Asylum seekers urge Fitzgerald to see how they are ‘forced to live’

Barry Roche – Irish Times – Wednesday 17th September 2014

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald was yesterday challenged by asylum seekers protesting in Cork to come and see what they have had to experience for up to nine years waiting for assessment.

Theresa is one of 250 asylum seekers who was protesting at the Kinsale Road Reception and Accommodation Centre on the outskirts of Cork against the direct provision system.

The residents began their protest on Monday against both the conditions at the state owned centre and the general direct provision system which forces them to stay in such centres.

Theresa said that the residents had a meeting with staff on Tuesday which lasted over three hours and staff promised to address their concerns on issues relating to the centre.

“The staff promised to do things about local issues here in the centre such as food and accommodation but they said they had no control over the general policy of direct provision.

“They said it is a matter for the Department of Justice but we never see the Department of Justice – I would like the Minister for Justice to come and see how we are forced to live.

“The Minister for Justice and the Reception and Integration Agency need to see what it’s like to try and raise two children in a centre like this – it’s not natural and it’s not right,” she said.

Therese thanked staff and management at the centre for their willingness to listen and their pledge to try and improve the situation but the national policy needs to be addressed, she said.

“We have made them realise that this protest is not about what we can get – it is about human dignity and equal human rights and social justice in Ireland,“ said Theresa.

“There has been much condemnation in Ireland and rightly about the Mothers and Baby homes and the Magdelene Launderies but direct provision system is as big a scandal.”

The protesting residents have maintained a 24 hour presence at the entrance to the centre as they operate a rota system to allow some people get sleep during the night.

“The children go into bed but we have kept the protest going throughout the nights – the men always ask the women to go in but we want to be here to show solidarity,” she said.

“The unity here on the protest cannot be imagined – the spirits are high – we are suffering but we are happy because we feel our voices are being heard and that is so important for us.

“When we started, we didn’t know what kind of support we would get but it is amazing – I shed tears when I think of how people – both Irish and immigrant – have come to help us.

“Farmers from the Wilton Farmers Market have given us food, individuals we don’t even know asking is there somewhere they can send money for us to get a list of things we want.

“The immigrant community too have been so supportive including former residents who know what are going through – they have come along to lend their support.”

Theresa’s comments were echoed by another resident, Lucky from South Africa who said Cork City Council had backed a call to end direct provion but had no power to change it.

“All they can do is send letters to the Minister Justice but we really need to end this system of direct provision because it is unjust and inhuman – it has to end,” said Lucky.

Contacted by The Irish Times, the Dept of Justice said that the Reception and Integration Agency was continuing to monitor the situation at the Kinsale Road Centre.

State told of tensions at asylum centre last month

Eoin English – Irish Examiner – Wednesday 17th September 2014

The State was warned a month ago about rising tensions inside one of its largest direct provision centres, which is at the centre of a blockade.

Irish immigrant support group Nasc, which visited the state-owned Kinsale Road accommodation centre in Cork City last month, said it identified a “worrying level of tension” between residents and centre management.

The support group wrote to the Reception and Integration Agency afterwards advising it to intervene.

However, those tensions boiled over yesterday when some of the asylum seekers, some of whom have been languishing in the 275- contracted capacity centre for almost a decade, mounted a blockade just after 5am. They prevented staff and delivery trucks from entering the facility and have vowed to maintain the blockade until conditions improve. They have also called for the scrapping of direct provision, and demanded the right to work.

Minister of State in the Department of Justice, Aodhán Ó Riordáin, who has responsibility for the direct provision system, told Newstalk yesterday he has established a working group to examine the entire system.

Centre resident Therese said they being “treated less than animals”. “People have been in this system for too long. Give us the right to work. Allow us to be part of the system and you will see the change we will make. “We are not villains. We are not miscreants. We are not criminals. We are human beings and we want to be respected — that is all we are asking.”

Nigerian Therese, who came to Ireland to “seek protection”, said people are no longer afraid to speak out. “I am no longer afraid after nine years. What more do I have to lose? I have lost nine years in the system. My children have grown up knowing only this system,” she said. Her son Chikamso, nine, who is in fourth class, said he is ashamed of where he lives. “I hate it. I don’t really like to talk about it.”

Another woman described it as a “living hell” trying to raise a family in the centre. “I hope to give my children a better life, but not this. We are not here to steal or commit a crime. We are here to give our children a better time,” she said. Dorcas Apendi, who was forced to flee the Congo seven-and-a-half years ago leaving six children behind, said: “I am tired. I need freedom now.”

Another resident, who came originally from Malawi four years ago, and who built stages in Dublin for large international music stars including Jay-Z, before seeking asylum last year, said direct provision is denying people their human rights. “The system is just horrible. It feels like we are caged. We have 24- hour CCTV, they monitor everything we do, we have to register everyday,” he said. “People here just want to be in society and be accepted as normal human beings.”

Anti-Deportation Ireland spokesman Joe Moore, who is supporting the blockage, branded direct provision totally “immoral and inhumane”. “This is the fourth protest at a direct provision centre in the last four of five weeks — Foynes, Athlone, Portlaoise and now here. People are just sick of the situation and what they are calling for is for the full system to be closed down and people to be given residency. “There are people here who’ve spent eight, nine and 10 years in this centre. “They all want to work. Some people here are very educated. They could contribute greatly to Irish society and that is being denied,” he said. “Some of the children here know no other life. They were born into direct provision. They are now eight or nine years living here. “We won’t know what effect direct provision has on them until they become young adults. “We could have a situation, maybe not in my lifetime, when some future taoiseach will stand up in the Dáil apologising for this on behalf of the Irish state.”

Earlier this year, the Office of Public Works completed a planned maintenance works on five blocks at the centre.

Exposed: The squalid conditions where asylum seekers are forced to live for years on end

Alan Selby – Irish Mirror – Wednesday 17th September 2014

These are the squalid conditions where hopeless asylum seekers are being held for years on end.

The Irish Mirror got a behind-the-scenes look at a Direct Provision Centre where nearly 150 men, women and children are kept indefinitely. Angry migrants have accused the Government of treating them like animals as they struggle to survive on €19.10 a week.

Since Monday furious residents have been protesting at the Direct Provision Centre on the Kinsale Road in Cork – where some of them have been living for more than a decade.

We were given a rare glimpse inside their accommodation, which is normally closed to the media.

Migrants desperate to work said the protest started at 5am over squalid, cramped living conditions without a prospect of employment or freedom. Protesters are calling for major changes to free them from similar centres, of which there are 34 across the country.

Dada Yewande, 47, said he had been at Kinsale Road for just under two years since he fled war-torn Nigeria on a flight to Dublin. The former hotel manager told how his mother had been killed and his wife was missing after the brutal terrorist group Boko Haram laid waste to his home. He showed the Mirror a tiny bedroom, with three single beds squeezed in while personal belongings and rubbish filled the remaining space. But he claimed complaints about conditions had fallen on deaf ears at the centre, which management said cost €1.4million to run last year. Dada said: “Everybody is just taking what they can from the Government and putting it in their back pocket. “They give us whatever they want to and if we complain they shout us down. We should be treated like human beings not like animals. “The truth is in a system people that are meant to relate to you should be more friendly. They should try and take the pain away, not add to it.”

Around 150 men live in the centre, in dormitory-style corridors segregated from women and children. The 99 women and 63 children on site are given more space, and allowed to stay together but residents said conditions were no better.

Sophie, who asked her real name be kept secret, emigrated from Guinea after clan violence made her fear for her life. Since arriving in Cork she has given birth to two children – now aged two and six months. As frozen offal thawed on a table just feet from her sleeping baby, the young mother told the Mirror: “This is all we have. “They cannot see their father – we are alone here.” Communal showers, toilets and basic cooking facilities are the only mod cons available to residents, who must eat at set times in a canteen. Kitchens have been closed since the protest began on Monday and well-wishers have been delivering food since then.

Florence Ndeke said she left Congo with her one-year-old son eight years ago, meaning he had lived inside the centre for most of his life. The former business manager, 34, said: “This place is no good for me and my child. 7 7 “My father and my husband were killed back home and we are the only ones left. If you tell them something is not working, they threaten you with life on the streets.”

Others born at Kinsale Road spoke with local accents and had Irish passports but are being held while their parents’ immigration status is decided. They said they are sometimes barred from having schoolmates to visit, and many were ashamed to bring friends to their home.

Theresa, who would not give her surname, said she had helped to organise the demonstration after witnessing little change in the nine years since she fled her native Nigeria. She explained: “I am one of the oldest residents here. I have seen it all. “My boarding school in Africa was less cramped than these rooms. “The media have been kept out because they don’t want the public to know how we are being forced to live. People are just losing their minds.”

Residents’s receive a charity food drop at Kinsale Road Reception and Accommodation Centre in Cork Now in her late 40s, she said all she had ever wanted was to contribute to society here, but permission to stay in Ireland and working permits are denied. Instead residents are given €19.10 a week by the State, which they said was passed straight to the direct provision system.

Theresa said: “I have a degree. If I am given the opportunity I could be a taxpayer and help those less fortunate but we are not being allowed to. “We don’t want to be spoon fed. We hate being called spongers. I’m not a sponger. I’m being fed because I’m being forced to. Let me fend for myself.”

Nasc, an immigration support charity based in Cork, said those living at the centres were being governed by overly-restrictive rules, and the lack of privacy they faced was a major issue. Campaigns manager Jennifer DeWan said they supported the protest. She added: “It is clear residents of these centres have become so frustrated about the conditions in the centres and the system that leaves them and their children in limbo for years that they are no longer afraid to speak out. “The system is inhumane – it needs to be dismantled and should be replaced by a reception system modelled on the recast EU reception directive, which Ireland has opted out of. “The directive supplies a humane model of minimum best practice standards but offers a significant amount of state discretion. “It is the model the majority of EU countries have adopted.”

State fears alternative to direct provision will attract asylum seekers

Carl O’Brien – Irish Times – Friday 19th September 2014

Internal Government briefing material claims any alternative to the direct provision system for asylum seekers may result in a “pull factor” for those seeking to abuse the asylum system. Government senators were circulated with a nine-page position paper yesterday which acknowledges the system is “not perfect”, but makes a strong case against changing direct provision. The material, seen by The Irish Times and drawn up by Department of Justice officials, states that the common travel area between Ireland and Britain would “possibly be abused by those using the asylum system to avail of better State provision here”. It also states the number of asylum claims is up 40 per cent on the same period last year, while the cost of facilitating asylum seekers to live independently – with access to regular social welfare payments – would be double the cost of the direct provision system. The Seanad yesterday heard a debate over a private member’s motion by Senator Rónán Mullen (Ind) which called on the Government to make sweeping reforms to the system.

Working group

Among his proposed changes were establishing female-only and family-only reception centres and granting the right to seek employment for asylum seekers after four years. “People in prison have a date on the door. People in direct provision do not. They don’t know when they will have the freedom to do the simple ordinary things of life like cook a meal or get a family pet,” he said. Government parties rejected the motion on the basis that it pre-empts the findings of a working group which is being established to review aspects of the direct provision system. The group – which includes Minister of State Aodhán Ó Riordáin and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald – is due to hold its first meeting on Thursday. Mr Ó Riordáin told the Seanad a debate on the issue was long overdue and it was no secret he had many difficulties with the direct provision system. “ I have described the system as inhumane and I do not resile from that description. I am entitled to hold that view even if it may conflict with the views of others in Government,” he said. He said “no click of my fingers is going to end it immediately” and any recommended changes flowing from the working group report will require Government approval. But he added: “I can say to this House and to those outside it that change can take place more rapidly than anyone has thought previously through the working group review mechanism.”

Refusal rate

Senator Hildegarde Naughton (FG) said recent disquiet among asylum seekers and support organisations was understandable, given the length of time people were spending in the system. But she said key facts needed to be considered, such as a 90 per cent refusal rate for asylum appeals over the past 10 years. 9 9 “I feel that sometimes the impression is given that we are discussing actual refugees when in the vast majority of cases what we are discussing are economic migrants or those applying for some other form of leave to remain,” she said. “Additional to this is the fact that over 50 per cent of those in direct provision have judicial review proceedings pending or in train, having deportation orders pending or are applying for leave to remain for non-protection reasons.” Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh said there was an impression that asylum seekers were often low-skilled individuals, when many were highly qualified lawyers, doctors or teachers who had sought asylum here to escape hostile conditions in their home countries. Overall, more than 4,000 asylum seekers, including 1,600 children, live in 34 reception centres – mostly former hostels or hotels – under the direct provision system. The average length of stay is almost four years, although some have been living in the system for anything up to 14 years.

Asylum seekers at second Cork centre begin protest

Barry Roche – Irish Times – Friday 19th September 2014

Asylum seekers at a second Cork reception centre have begun a protest at the direct provision system – the fifth such centre nationally to see protests in the space of the past week. Up to 90 residents of the Ashbourne House Hotel in Glounthaune in east Cork began a protest this morning, highlighting the delays that they are experiencing.

One of the protesters, Austin, a father of four, said while the staff at Ashbourne are doing their best, some people are waiting up to nine years to be assessed for asylum. “I am here six years and my wife is here seven years – the management are doing the best they can but the problem is the system and the long delays that people have to wait.” Oluchi, a Nigerian mother of an eight-year-old boy, spoke of her frustration with the system which has seen her still waiting for a decision almost nine years after she first arrived. “The wait is just so long, if we were here six months or one year, it would manageable but how do you explain to a child why we are waiting here nine years – it’s impossible. “When he was younger it was fine but now he is attending school and he tells his friends that ‘Look, I sleep in the same bed as my mum’ and his friends are shocked. “If you committed a serious crime, you would at least know when you would be out – in seven or eight or nine years but we don’t know how long we are going to be here for,” said Oluchi, who has a law degree from Nigeria. 10 10 “But what offence have we committed, what offence has my son committed and yet we have what is like a never ending sentence here.”

Another resident, Joe – who lives at the centre with his wife and three children – spoke of the toll the uncertainty is taking on residents, particularly on their mental health and well being. “People are suffering from frustration and depression having to stay in such conditions for so long and the Government isn’t doing anything and it just goes on and on the same way,” he said. “A lot of people from Pakistan and India who came after us were given papers and we are still here.”

When the Ashbourne House Hotel centre first opened in 2000, the then minister for justice John O’Donoghue told the Dáil it would be a short stay centre for applicants. “It is envisaged that asylum seekers at a second Cork reception centre have begun a protest at the direct provision system – the fifth such centre nationally to see protests in the space of the past week.

Meanwhile, some 250 residents at the Kinsale Road Reception and Accommodation Centre on the outskirts of Cork city are also continuing with a protest over the direct provision system.

Mounting protests by asylum seekers over delays

Carl O’Brien – Irish Times – Friday 19th September 2014

Protests by asylum seekers in the State’s direct provision system are spreading as residents in a fifth centre in just over a week demonstrated over long delays in the asylum system.

The protests came as Government ministers met with nongovernmental organisations to discuss plans for a working group that will review the direct provision system. The asylum accommodation regime was set up 14 years ago, with the Government at the time saying those seeking asylum would spend about six months in the system.

Today, more than half of the 4,300 residents have been living in the system for more than four years. Up to 90 residents of the Ashbourne House Hotel in Glounthaune, Cork, yesterday gathered to highlight cases of people who have been waiting up to nine years for their status to be confirmed.

At the protest, Oluchi, mother of an eight-year-old boy, voiced her frustration with the system that has meant waiting for a decision almost nine years after her arrival. “If we were here six months or one year, it would be manageable but how do you explain to a child why we are waiting here nine years – it’s impossible,” she said. “He is attending school and he tells his friends that ‘look, I sleep in the same bed as my mum’ and his friends are shocked.” She added: “If you committed a serious crime, you would at least know when you would be out . . . we don’t know how long we are going to be here.”

Another resident, Joe – who lives at the centre with his wife and three children – told of the toll the uncertainty was taking on residents. “People are suffering from frustration and depression having to stay in such conditions for so long and the Government isn’t doing anything.”

The working group – which includes Minister of State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald – is due to complete its work before the end of the year.

‘It’s Boiling Over Now’ Asylum Seekers Protest At Second Cork Direct Provision Centre

The Cork News – Friday 19th September 2014

Complete closure of direct provision centres now is being demanded by residents, as a second Cork centre joins the campaign. Up to 90 residents at the Ashbourne House Direct Provision centre in Glounthaune, many of whom have spent up to 10 years living in an institutional setting that was designed to be a short-term solution, have committed to maintaining a protest, along with the residents at Kinsale Road Accommodation Centre, until the issue is resolved. Coupled with the length of time that many asylum seekers have spent within direct provision, concern is also being expressed about the restrictive rules relating to meal times, and lack of privacy.

One South African resident in Ashbourne, who asked not be named, told The Cork News that she has been in the Glounthaune centre for six and a half years. “We are not allowed to work, but we want to work. We want to help the Irish Government and pay tax,” she said. “We want to be able to cook our own food, go to work and school. We want to be free. It’s about equal rights.” She stated that she shares a room with her six-year-old son, and that other families could have up to four in a room. “It’s too much,” she said. “My son has never known a life outside the centre.”

Joe Moore of Anti-Deportation Ireland (ADI) outlined the second Cork protest in Glounthaune, which began on the day a review group to examine the direct provision system held its first meeting, makes it “clear that residents want real and immediate change to the system”. “People are frustrated,” he said. “Some have been there eight, nine, or 10 years. You’ve children who were born in Ireland, who are nine years of age now, and know no other life other than direct provision.”

Mr Moore added that there are cases where families are sharing one room, with “two or three beds stuck together”. “One woman was telling me that her child was at school and the teacher was getting the kids to name different appliances in rooms and some of the children hadn’t a clue. The rooms they live in are like bedsits of old. And they have never seen their parents cook, things we all take for granted. “In the Kinsale Road, one of the rooms had three beds for three single men and it was almost impossible to get out of one bed and stand on the floor as they were so close together.”

Mr Moore stated that families in the centres are “putting their lives on hold”. “It’s boiling over now, and Ashbourne House is the fifth centre to protest. The ones in Cork in particular are not about conditions in the centres, it’s about the whole system. They’re not looking for specific improvements in either the Kinsale Road or Ashbourne House, they just want to system to be closed down, to be given their freedom and to be able to live normal lives. People just can’t take it anymore.”

The ADI is calling on the Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald to close all direct provision centres, to give asylum seekers the “right to work”, access to third level education and to “end Ireland’s policy of deportation”.

At the Kinsale Road Accommodation Centre, over 200 residents have blocked staff from gaining entry to the premises, and food and monetary donations are being made to the facility by members of the public. “The amount of support from people in Cork has been unreal,” said Mr Moore. “From individuals coming up with money to some people coming up with car loads of provisions. Contrary to what we may be led to believe, that there isn’t support out there for asylum seekers, what’s happening at the Kinsale Road is proof there is goodwill.”

Criticism of direct provision system for asylum seekers continues to grow

Marie O’Halloran – Irish Times – Saturday 20th September 2014

In classic Government understatement, a confidential document described Ireland’s direct provision system as “not ideal”. The same document adds, however, that improving the system increases the risk of asylum seekers from the UK moving to the State for better conditions.

And so a scheme introduced in November 1999 with the expectation that asylum seekers would spend about six months in direct provision has deteriorated into an entrenched dysfunctional system where more than half the 4,360 people involved have been in this limbo state for more than four years, some for up to 14 years. They receive bed and board in 34 direct provision centres with a weekly payment of €19.10 for each adult and €9.60 for children.

Asylum seekers are not permitted to work, are isolated from Irish society in general and many suffer depression as a consequence. Many families sleep together in one room or share accommodation with other asylum seekers and have no cooking facilities.

Many of the more than 1,600 children in direct provision have grown up in the system, speak with Irish accents and have been educated in Ireland but remain in a stateless limbo.

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan has criticised the system and its impact on children and the difficulties they face getting into third-level education.

The Council of Europe and the United Nations have been sharp in their criticisms about the duration of the system, and the UN Human Rights Committee also criticised it for not being conducive to family life and expressed concern about the absence of an independent complaints process.

Former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness warned a future government could be apologising for the damage done by the system. Asylum seekers have begun protesting against the system, and the relentless national and international focus on the system has brought a consensus that something must be done. But what to do?

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has expressed her concerns about the system but she formally opposes allowing asylum seekers to work.

Minister of State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, however, takes a different view. He said he was “staking his reputation” on reforming the system which he described as “inhumane”. He warned, however, that no click of his fingers was going to end it immediately, but said “change can take place more rapidly than anyone has thought previously” through a working group review.

It met for the first time on Thursday, and will report in three months. Mr Ó Ríordáin hopes that under a reformed system decisions could be taken within a year, that the ban on working could be relaxed and child-friendly rules introduced. He will have responsibility for amending and passing the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill which fell with the last government.

In a Seanad debate Independent Senator Rónán Mullen called on the Government to allow people in direct provision for more than four years to be allowed to remain in the State and work.

Fianna Fáil’s Labhrás Ó Murchú said there was no difference in the story of Ireland and emigration and that of the asylum seekers in Ireland. “We still hear how Irish people were treated in the countries of their adoption and we should learn from that.”

Asylum seekers could have decision on status ‘in weeks’

Michael O’Regan- Irish Times – Saturday 20th September 2014

A decision on refugee status for asylum seekers could be reduced to weeks under legislation due to be enacted next spring, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has said. She said the heads of the legislation, which would implement a single application procedure, would go before Cabinet in the next two or three weeks.

The Minister told The Irish Times yesterday the main purpose of the legislation was to dramatically cut the time spent in direct provision. “If applicants co-operate with the process, some will have decisions in weeks and the rest within six months,” she said.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said yesterday he understood the frustrations of asylum seekers waiting for up to nine years to have their applications granted, and he was anxious to have a much quicker determination process as soon as possible. He said that while cases varied and were often complicated, the delays were unacceptable.

‘Drifted on for years’

“This is quite complex and obviously one thing that needs to be looked at is the question of the determination of eligibility for asylum criteria,’’ said Mr Kenny. “Many of these cases have drifted on for years without a solution being found or a decision being made.’’

In the past fortnight, asylum seekers at reception centres in Athlone, Foynes, Portlaoise and two centres in Cork have mounted protests over direct provision and the delays in having their applications assessed. 14 14 More than 4,000 asylum seekers live in the direct provision system, a form of temporary shelter set up 14 years ago in response to greater numbers seeking refugee status.

Ms Fitzgerald and Minister of State for Equality Aodhán Ó Ríordáin are to establish a working group this month to review direct provision “within the overall budgetary, financial and accommodation situation in the State’’. Ms Fitzgerald will ask the group, made up of NGOs and department representatives, to identify any significant improvements to be made.

Direct Provision must end Letters to the Editor –

Irish Examiner – Saturday 20th September 2014

Make no mistake about it — the system of Direct Provision is a continuation of Ireland’s institutional abuse in the early 21st century.

In the past the target of state neglect and abuse included vulnerable children, women in so-called ‘inappropriate’ pregnancies and women in labour; this time, state misconduct is turned towards asylum seekers. What is taking place in these accommodation centres is the warehousing of people, often over a long number of years, in overcrowded conditions where dignity, privacy and health are all either non-existent or grossly compromised. Children are born into these conditions and are living their lives in forced isolation from Irish society. Unaccompanied young people are being housed in them, despite the fact that the Health Service Executive has responsibility for these children under the Childcare Act 1991. Adults are thrown together and often left for years to languish in conditions where they are constantly monitored; they share showers, toilets, and suffer from depression from the constant boredom and surveillance that characterises their lives. These stories have been told to and are recorded by the Daíl: no member of our parliament can now claim not to be aware of the conditions of enforced inhumanity that adults and children are kept in under the Direct Provision system.

These shameful doings are being undertaken in the name of the citizens of Ireland, under the auspices of the Department of Justice and Equality and its Reception and Integration Agency. They are operationalised by local management companies, who take significant millions in profit from these disgraceful undertakings. Minister O’Riordáin’s acknowledgement of the inhumanity of the Direct Provision system, and Minister Fitzgerald’s expressed concern for same, lack any urgency to immediately address the abuse that is taking place. If their agenda is followed, children and adults in Direct Provision will remain in these inhumane conditions for at least another year, hardly reflecting any empathy or understanding of the gravity of the consequences of living in these inhumane conditions.

Through their recent and growing protests, the residents have, and are, asking for our help in ending this brutal system. Through their courage, they have made visible this ongoing horror-story, so that we can now see at first hand the extent of the inhumanity perpetrated upon them. In this latest configuration of state abuse, none of us can now claim ignorance. There is only one way to address this: end Direct Provision, stop deportations and give people access to work. We demand that our government do this now.

Claire Dorrity, Dr Eluska Fernandez, Eileen Hogan, Dr Deirdre Horgan, Becci Jeffers, Dr Shirley Martin, Dr Feilim O’hAdhmaill, Dr Jacqui O’Riordan
School of Applied Social Studies
University College Cork

Mike FitzGibbon
Department of Food Business and Development
University College Cork

Dr Karl Kitching
School of Education
University College Cork

Fitzgerald rules out blanket amnesty for those in long-term direct provision

Fiona Gartland – Irish Times – Wednesday 24th September 2014

A blanket amnesty for asylum seekers who have spent a long time in the direct provision system has been ruled out by the Minister for Justice. At citizenship ceremony in Dublin yesterday, Frances Fitzgerald said she would not consider a blanket amnesty because many the 4,500 people in direct provision were “very connected into the legal system under judicial reviews at the moment”. “And a number of people are under deportation orders whose cases are reasonably heard and who have been to the courts, those cases have to be dealt differently to others,” Ms Fitzgerald said. “But of course we’ll consider individual circumstances and make the very best decisions we can for those cases,” she added. Direct provision, a system in which asylum seekers live in accommodation centres with food supplied and are given €19 a week until their applications are processed, has been widely criticised. Some groups have called for a blanket amnesty for those who have been in the system for years. Promised new legislation aims to speed up the asylum application process, but it will only apply to new applicants. Responding to concerns about children in direct provision, Ms Fitzgerald compared their situation to children who were living in “dreadful conditions” in refugee camps in Syria and Iraq. “In direct provision in Ireland children go to primary school, they go to secondary school they are involved in the local community,” she said. 16 16 The Minister said she would examine how to improve conditions for families, including giving them “more self-determination around certain aspects of direct provision”, including food or other issues that would “help with their parenting and give more of a sense of being able to be in charge of their own families within the context of direct provision”. Also at yesterday’s citizenship ceremonies was Minister of State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who has responsibility for equality and new communities and who has described direct provision as “inhumane”. Mr Ó Ríordáin said he did have sympathy with the suggestion that for people who had been in the system for many years “due regard would be given to their situation”. “However, there are people who have deportation orders hanging over them so an amnesty in that regard would probably not be the way to go,” he said. He also said he did not want to “raise expectations unnecessarily” about what the recently established working group, set up to examine the system, would recommend. He said he hoped the group would report in three months time. Some 86 former asylum seekers were among the 3,275 people who became Irish citizens at a series of ceremonies yesterday presided over by the Ministers alternating and by Mr Justice Bryan McMahon, retired from the High Court. Music at the uplifting event was supplied by the Garda Band, including the force’s answer to Michael Bublé, Garda Charles Kavanagh, who sang Home and Haven’t Met You Yet. To a chorus of crying babies, Ms Fitzgerald gave the speech at the first ceremony yesterday. “You are Irish, you belong here, you’re one of us,” she told the participants, to much applause. Mr Justice McMahon was also applauded when he told applicants that his parents and his grandparents back through the generations were born in Ireland and had lived here for centuries. However, he added, “after this ceremony I will have no greater legal rights in this country than you will have; under the Constitution all citizens are equal”.

Minister warns against ‘unrealistic expectations’ on direct provision

Marie O’Halloran – Irish Times – Thursday 25th September 2014

The Minister for Justice has warned against what she called “unrealistic expectations” in dealing with asylum seekers and direct provision. “This is a Europe-wide problem in terms of the demands in Europe,” Frances Fitzgerald said, “particularly in southern Europe and the number of refugees as a result of unrest internationally.” It was a complex issue that was placing huge demands on EU states. “I have made it clear that we will do whatever we can to improve conditions and to ensure that human rights are protected.” However, she told TDs: “I caution against unrealistic expectations.” She repeated that new arrivals would be dealt with within a year or 18 months maximum once new legislation was implemented at Easter next year. Ms Fitzgerald was responding during justice questions to Sinn Féin justice spokesman Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, who raised concerns about direct provision for asylum seekers and the delays in dealing with their cases. Mr Mac Lochlainn said those in direct provision were “trapped in this situation and impoverished for a significant period”. Highlighting concerns about the impact on children of living in direct provision, he said there should be accountability from centres through the Ombudsman, but there was no accountability because private businesses provided the services. Pressure has increased on the Government to act where some asylum seekers waited for up to nine years for a decision on their applications. Length of stay, accommodation and cooking facilities have been criticised internationally and allegations have been made that some women in direct provision have been forced into prostitution. Mr Mac Lochlainn acknowledged Ms Fitzgerald’s concern but said it was “the inevitable outworking of a long-term situation when people find themselves trapped”. He called on the Minister to move speedily. Cautioning against unrealistic expectations in relation to direct provision and warning of the EU-wide problem, Ms Fitzgerald also said she did not accept it was inevitable that women in direct provision must resort to prostitution. She had asked for Garda reports on any harassment that might be taking place. “If there is information available to show that women are being solicited or put under pressure, that must be examined and managers in local centres must be highly sensitive to is. Certainly I do not see it as inevitable.” Ms Fitzgerald said 4,330 people were housed in 34 asylum centres and she said the issue should be put in “some context”. There was a 40 per cent increase in the number of asylum seekers to date this year “although obviously from a low base in recent years”. She said this was a reflection of the European-wide demand in respect of refugees as well as unrest in many countries.

Bockade ends

Kieran O’Mahony – Cork Independent – Thursday 25th September 2014

The 10-day protest by residents at the Kinsale Road Reception and Accomodation Centre has been suspended after residents and management of Aramark, the centre management company, came to an agreement following a meeting on Monday. “Our protest is being officially suspended and we are giving the staff and management the chance to come in and do what they promised to do. Any changes that are promised can’t be implemented unless the staff can get to back to work here,” said Theresa Obi, a resident of the centre for the past nine years. “I feel good and positive for the first time in a while and feel that finally my voice was listened to but I hope that the management will keep to their promise following our ongoing discussions. We just want the relationship between both staff and residents to be mutually respectful of each other.” The residents also wished to acknowledge the very positive public response to their action from people passing by the centre to those who offered food to them during the 10-day protest. Up to 250 residents began their protest early on Monday 15 September by blocking staff from gaining entry to the premises. They had been calling for the end of direct provision and were not satisfied with the general living conditions at the reception centre. They were also calling for the right to work and access third level education and an end to deportations. Staff have not been able to enter the premises since then and residents maintained a blockade and had called on the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) to listen to their demands. Following the Kinsale Road protests, up to 90 residents of the Ashbourne House Hotel in Glounthaune also mounted protests at the conditions at their centre but they withdrew after two days. Their grievance was also with the delay in the asylum process with some residents waiting up to 10 years for their cases to be decided on. “These residents had been so silent for so long and it was about time people listened to them. It was really important for the residents to see that there was real engagement from the RIA that they were being listened to,” said Jennifer DeWan from Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Group. At the time of going to press, a planned Rally for Dignity and Freedom was set to take place this Friday 26 September at Daunt Square at 5.30pm.